Sunday, October 23, 2011


Recently, I was sent this pitch (I am not going to include any links, and you'll see why in a minute):

Cambio, an interactive online entertainment experience aimed at teens and young adults, is now in the business of helping its readers do their homework with Mark Burnett’s “CliffsNotes Films.” The first 6 episodes, which are live now exclusively on Cambio, humorously bring the most trusted study guides to life.

The episodes are entertaining, modernized versions of Shakespeare’s classics: Romeo And Juliet, Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, Hamlet and Macbeth. Cambio also offers quizzes about each episode to help their young audience cram for the big test. There are also CliffsNotes points, badges, contests, social feeds and commenting available to Cambio members who want to discuss these fun, quirky shorts
(Note: highlighting is mine).

I anticipated recommending this site enthusiastically, because I do think that Cliff's notes and similar services can be valuable study aids for students.

Note that I said study aids. These products are meant to supplement, not supplant, the original material.

So, no, teens, you cannot get out of your assigned reading! And trust me, later in life, you'll thank whoever first exposed you to Shakespeare. Really.

So, back to the site in question. I'm stressing "site", because despite the pitch I was sent, the short films are not really what you are being sold on here, the website is.

The site hosting the films (which, as noted, is run by Cambio, that online entertainment experience aimed at teens and young adults) is incredibly ad-heavy. The whole set-up comes across as more of an ad campaign for the movie Anonymous than a helpful tool of any kind.

And the ads are intrusive. I have a free Adblock extension for my browser that I use when ads start to take over site content, and even my attempts to use scripts to block the ads did not work.

Not only is the left margin of the website taken up by a picture ad for the movie, anyone wanting to watch one of the short films summarizing the Shakespeare plays (I chose Othello) is first subjected to a trailer of Anonymous, too.  Then, the short film is again interrupted in the middle, in an inappropriate and completely out-from-left-field manner, by a character hawking Anonymous.

That's right, they use a character in their "study guide" film to hype another film coming out in theaters.

Which, okay, is a film at least superficially about Shakespeare. But, much as I would love for it to be an educational, historical film, Anonymous is riddled with historical inaccuracies. It has been derided as "inadvertently comic" and "a pompous, ignorant, ill-informed, and clumsy film." Even the premise (that Shakespeare's plays were actually the creation of a former English earl, Edward de Vere), is one that, among respected authorities in the field, has "roughly the same currency as the faked moon landing does among astronauts." (sources referenced via Wikipedia)

There's also an ad along the bottom of the website (which can at least be closed by clicking the x), AND an oversized box along the right side margin with links to Cambio entertainment "news".  This "news" section includes the latest on Kim Kardashian's acting career and a profile of Beyonce.

There's a small link to AOL in the top margin. There's another one to Cambio's home page right under that. At the bottom of the website, in small print, there is a note that Cambio is "part of the AOL network."

Scrolling down the page gets us to the Twitter feed (that's the "social feed and comments" part, not a social network designed for teens, but just plain old Twitter, which, by the way, does contain tweets about the Shakespeare films on the site, but not from other teens or educators, just PR reps tweeting the site to bloggers).

Finally, I reached the bottom of the webpage, with a grouping of links by, naturally, Cambio, not one of which references Cliff Notes or Shakespeare whatsoever.

Now, I have no problem with advertising or promoting a brand, please don't get me wrong! But Cambio, spawn of AOL, is pushing so many advertisements with this site that the content, such as it is, gets buried in them.

So, let's look at the content.

Eventually (after sitting through that trailer for Anonymous, a film I had originally thought of seeing but am thoroughly disenchanted with now), I was able to watch a film summarizing the plot of Othello. Now, the ads on the site are distracting enough to me, so if you have a teen who is having trouble understanding Shakespeare, I'd steer far clear of this site for that reason alone.

But in addition, the animated film I saw, while including some of the classical language and effectively summarizing the plot (which I do approve of, because mature students assigned the plays should be able to handle terms like, "the beast with two backs" and themes like jealousy, deception, adultery and murder), was unfortunately presented in a silly, caricatured format that seemed designed to appeal to young children. Or at least, certainly not designed to appeal to teens.

I can see teenagers just being annoyed by the childish characterizations, if they had the patience to wait out the ads in the first place to watch them, which I doubt. There's an implied condescension in the style, like obviously teens need to be talked down to, as they can't possibly understand the complexity of Shakespeare unless we talk down to them in the form of a cartoon. The silliness of the short films just reinforces the initial impression I had: that this website cannot be taken seriously.

So, rather than actually making a useful study tool--and generating positive feedback and word-of-mouth for Cambio from parents, educators, and students while they were at it--Cambio chose to take the low road and flood a website with advertising first, placing content a very distant second.

So that is why there are no links at all in this post, because not only do I NOT recommend this Cambio educational tool advertising portal, I cannot condone the way they are attempting to pass off very sparse content buried inside a myriad of advertising vehicles as "the business of helping" teenage "readers do their homework."

1 comment:

Samizdata said...

Bring the fire. This all needs some Old Testiment smitage.

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